From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America Igud HaRabbonim
October 1, 2020
The Rabbinical Alliance of America, The National Council of Young Israel, The Rabbinical Council of America, Agudath Israel of America have all been conveying vital Information to their member Rabbis regarding COVID-19 and all related Rabbinic information. Rabbi Doniel Kramer is always’ sending continuous information to the Orthodox Jewish Chaplains through the Orthodox Jewish Chaplains Roundtable. We are all mispallel not only should this magaifa be eradicated and by being Mekadaish H the focus on our communities will only become positive.
I would like to share with you some thoughts from Einei Yisrael. The Moadim and Hilchos Teshuva from HaRav Chaim Yisrael Belsky zt” l The Ari Hacohen & Miriam Memorial Edition Machon Simchas HaTorah “The Essence of the Moadim Keeping the feelings and thoughts of the Moadim fresh and alive. There are moments during the Moadim when we experience a deep awaking, a feeling of connection, of understanding and wholeness. At those moments we are inspired to strengthen our connection with the Ribono Shel Olom and to work on our Avodah, learning and Mitzva observance.”
“Preserving the Simcha. Returning to what we wrote at the beginning of the sefer ( Einei Yisrael The Moadim & Hilchos Teshuva) the true value of experiencing joy on Yomtov is to preserve those special moments of hisorerus, spiritual awakening, and be able to access them on all days throughout the year. Perhaps there was a moment of great emunah, of ahavas Torah when you felt a tremendous burning love for the Torah HaKedoshah. There are so many different moments, and these are just a few examples, but everybody knows in his personal life which are the things that matter to him the most.
There are even events locked away deep in your memory that can be recalled and these can also become source of inspiration, such as the time you stood under the chuppah, being called for an Aliyah on your Bar Mitzva, the first time you made kiddush as a new chosson, as well as the many moments of joy and connection that you felt on the holy festivals.
These moments are very precious, indeed, they are priceless treasures that should never be lost. As we have explained, the only way to preserve them is by thinking of them, over and over, until they become living joyous part of your everyday being.
This is how you can always gain a deep sustenance from the Moadei Yisrael, so that even when the chag is over and you have to descend once more to the mundane world, you will still carry these treasures in your heart and mind. These are the special moments of kedushah and connection to HaKadosh Barach Hu that will stay with you until the coming of the Righteous Redeemer, may it be soon and in our days, Amen”
You were probably wondering if I would continue to write about my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H and the response from me is yes. To share with you what it was like, from the very beginning before Yom Kippur would begin, not having the meals together, the preparations for the fast, and of course davening at the Bialystoker Synagogue instead of where we used to daven for Shabbosim, Yom Tovim and the Yomim Nearim. I often would daven at the Bialystoker during the week and at other times even years ago. In fact, when I was learning under the leadership of a professional chazan, I once davened as a chazan at the Bialystoker when I was just about 16 or 17 years old. I never mentioned that I starred as a boy wonder singing at various events and functions, and later on as a chazan even walking down the aisle singing at weddings. I was considered an alto tenor singing professionally. Through the years though, I gave it up, but still love classical musical and all the famous composers of the past. My wife and I loved to listen to music including Jewish classical music, not the loud and fast music that is often similar to secular music scores. There are so many flashbacks, not just about my wife, but about my parents and other family members. But my wife was so special indeed. I was able to separate the feelings for my wife yet knowing her neshama is in a holy place. I hope to continue going on with life with the Aibershta’s help, doing many mitzvos and continuing with life without her in a physical sense, but spiritually. I was thinking what it would be like after techias hamaisim living in Yerushalayim meeting with relatives who are Kohanem such as her father and me as a Levi participating in the holiness of the yom tovim. I’m not sure what it means, but I am able to feel a lot less sadness, knowing and thinking of her as I have mentioned previously in a wonderful, serene, pastoral, warm, nurturing, holy place- not alone, but with so many neshamos she knows and all the other holy neshamos. Yes, I still miss her, but internalizing even more so why and how she felt that I must go on with life, caring for myself, continuing with those things that made her proud and continue to accomplish good things. Knowing she is there for me as my parents have been has been comforting. I continue to pray for her neshama. Davening in a different setting, a different makom has been very meaningful. I have been davening at the Bialystoker Synagogue after my wife was nifteres when the shuls were permitted to have additional congregants at first 10- 12 then 25. The mispallim are friendly and the Morah DAsrah HaRav Zvi Romm very caring. He was a remarkable baal tefilla for the Yomim Nearim with no short cuts in the davening. He is makpid on doing, saying, and giving with his heart with lots of feelings and kavod for one and all. The davening as was the atmosphere, very welcoming and spiritual. The drashos were simply perfect and the tefilos not rushed nor skipped. The shul follows social distancing and mask wearing by everyone and no exceptions. There is a glass partition standing between the person having the aliya and the baal koreh. After the bracha, he steps down to the side and the next person has the Aliyah. I am no stranger to the Bialystoker as I mentioned before. my wife and I went there for various simchas, she attended the Rav’s shiurim on Sunday’s. So, in a sense it was as of we both shared something special together at the Bialystoker even though we did not daven there Shabbosim and Yom Tovim. For 10 years we davened at the shul where I was a rabbi on Henry Street, then for 13 years at the Bialystoker Rehab and shul where I was the rabbi and director of pastoral care and then at the Yeshiva MTJ where there were many meaningful and strong memories. With my wife’s illness progressing, I no longer davened there. I eventually davened at a local shul where I could daven shacharis at home, make kiddush for my wife, pop into the local late Shabbos minyan. Eventually, that too I would discontinue and daven at home. Especially with the Coronavirus, my days at home with my wife became so meaningful and close in so many ways which I shared in more detail in some of my earlier articles. Eventually after my wife was nifteres, well the rest is history. I have been davening at the Bialystoker ever since. Sukkos will have different challenges, but nothing that cannot be met. It is so nice to know wonderful people in my neighborhood who call me every week to hear how I am doing and some other friend as well. One of my chavarim who also happens to be a health care chaplain wife died a number of months ago, and we keep in touch every week. We share notes on what we are doing taking care of ourselves and doing professionally and of course spiritually. We share some cute thoughts about following what our wives want from us. We both try to keep our homes in good condition. He tells me how important it is especially the kitchen and living room in case his wife comes for a visit. I have also been asked how I have been eating, we share that too. In fact, almost everyone wants to know that as well as what, I am doing every week. I really think that is swell and enjoy sharing what. I am doing. I guess, I want to tell everyone – see, I can do it, I’m doing aok and I can really manage not just to survive, but have a meaningful life – just as my wife wanted me to. She was my biggest fan, supporter, and a great mentor. Well aside from some tasty items from East Side Glatt on Grand Street of the LES, I make all my meals and try to eat healthy foods. I have made different types of roast chicken, vegetable kugels brown rice kugels, vegetable souffles, different types of fish (very little oil of if any ) OK I will stop here, Yes one more great items, low fat no sugar added cheese cake.( all frozen vegetables with good hashgacha). So far, except for one neighbor, I haven’t given anyone samples of my food. In case I didn’t mention it, my family keeps in touch and tabs on me. Maybe they are afraid, I will surprise them with a phone call from some far away exotic place without first telling them. It cannot be Israel, not yet. Boruch H. I have a very supportive family. I recently did a creative project for all the children and grandchildren in the spirit and memory of my wife, their Mommy and Bubby for Sukkos. Something that was very dear to her. This is another way of continuing her mesorah. Anyone who would like to know more can contact me. You might want to know, is all this spiritual uplifting, progress in my life since my wife’ death, a façade, a cover up from something with more sadness. Is it possible for someone to take the direction, I have and continuously take? No, the grief and bereavement are not over yet, but for me I am tremendously grateful to the Aibershta. There isn’t anything in my life that I cannot thank Him enough. Interestingly, I have found my own spirituality even greater than ever before. There are so many variables, that have helped me during my period from the onset of her illness. I know, I could never have done it without her love, her support, her kindness, her understanding, her sensitivity, her tremendous sincerity and so much more. Gee whiz, there goes my tears. But there was so much other support, from family, doctors, but most of all our closeness and wanting to make life work to it’s fullest. The various variables that, I can attribute to my own progress are not for this article alone. I must share that professionally, I have worked in these areas in many significant ways and in the many diverse programs, presentations, I did (I already shared many of my professional accomplishments in previous articles and aside from the spiritual guidance from the Torah world, I still most also acknowledge my readings from other helpful sources. I even have been asked if I want to return to work. Well, I am already working. I am in the midst of working on special programs for the RAA, and keeping my “feet”wet in a professional sense. Most of all, I want to continue in my ruchnius, not just my gashmius. I hope to continue my friendship and good relationship with others, some who I did not mention in this article. I have been told that my articles have been meaningful for others in their search of their own journey. It has been suggested, I give presentations as I have done so in the past, but this time relating, sharing and conveying the essence and meaning of life in a different way. It was also suggested that I put what I have written in a book. Whatever is meant to be, whatever direction will be is entirely up to the Aibershta.
I shared from Einei Yisrael in the beginning of this article, in the part “ Preserving the Simcha” “the true value of experiencing joy on Yomtov is to preserve those special moments of hisorerus, spiritual awakening, and be able to access them on all days throughout the year etc. please read the full part shared in this article before, “there are so many different moments and these are just a few examples, but everybody knows in private, personal life which are the things that matter to him most”. (This book is available in many sefarim and Judaica stores).
There is one person I most acknowledge, my dear and close cousin Dr. Philip or as we all know him by Feitel, Rubin who is an oncologist and hematologist at Maimonides Medical Cancer Center who was our guiding light throughout my wife’s illness from the very beginning, Not only is he a Talmid Chacham, a Ben Torah completing Shas many times over, he has a heart more precious than gold. His kindness and sincerity as well as his medical knowledge and expertise know no bounds.
I truly am mispallel we should all have a gmar chasima tova, a remarkable, spiritual and meaningful Sukkos, and hopefully there should be achdus for Klal Yisrael. We should have many opportunities for Kiddush H . For all those who are lonely, their days should be filled with more brightness, we should not forsake them, do not pity them, just be kind to them. Not overbearing, but in a pleasant way. Being alone can be physically alone or feeling alone. Share your smile, your friendship, your heart in a golden way. COVID-19 is making everything so more challenging. I guess we have to decide how to meet the challenges – for ourselves, our loved ones and for other’s. I am grateful first and foremost the Ribono She Olam for every single thing He does for us, to my parents A”H, my dear wife A”H and my whole family sol zein gezundt. If you are interested in reading any of my articles, please go to the Rabbinical Alliance of America website and go to Chaplaincy Commission update, click on to read just my articles. Of course, you are welcome to read any of the RAA weekly newsletters. I hope you found this and my previous articles worthy of being read. I thank you for permitting me to share from my lens my personal journey with my wife and my continued journey after her demise. I hope they will be helpful to those in their time of need and for others to be of understanding during their difficult and challenging times. “This is not the end, it is the continuation of life”. Thank you. All my very best.
Sincerely Yehuda Blank